27 July 2008

Shanty-town law

John Maxwell

Truisms and clichés become truisms and clichés because they express rules of experience – the probability that certain behaviours are almost bound to have certain predictable effects. ‘Marry in haste’, one says, ‘repent at leisure’.

Recently in Hartley Neita’s collection of stories from old Gleaners, there was the tale of a man in St Mary who was so bothered by the plaster-cast on his broken ankle that he decided to cut the damned thing off. You know what’s coming, don’t you?

At the end of the process he found he’d amputated his foot.

According to Carl Stone’s polls at the time, most Jamaicans enthusiastically supported the Suppression of Crimes Act and the Gun Court, (1974) and the State of Emergency (1976). Before we were very much older, most of us were appealing piteously to be rid of these magic bullets, which had been guaranteed to make us all safer and happier and would probably cure teenage sex, bad breath and incontinence to boot.

Will we never learn?

We disregard common sense warnings – from the Bible to John Stuart Mill and Mark Twain to Louise Bennett, to go whoring after instant solutions that sound good if we don’t think about them too hard.

For instance, the call for indefinite detention is an echo of the legislation for the Gun Court declared unconstitutional not too long ago. Removal of Judges’ discretion reflects the so-called ‘Rape Act’ provisions of 1964, found not too long after to be oppressive and counter-productive.

I could go on, but why?

Id over Superego

Sigmund Freud may have been wrong abut many things, but his theory of Id, Ego and Superego seems destined to have validity for a little while yet, describing the areas of the psychic apparatus that govern our human behaviour, The ID or “It” is the instinctive bundle of reflexes at the base of our psyches (or minds)

IT/ID “ is the dark, inaccessible part of our personality… a chaos, a cauldron full of seething excitations ... It is filled with energy reaching it from the instincts, but it has no organization, produces no collective will, but only a striving to bring about the satisfaction of the instinctual needs subject to the observance of the pleasure principle.”

It is the place where our lusts hide,along with other primitive emotions like revenge and greed but also all our basic drives for food, sex and our instinctive altruism, sympathy and tender instincts. Id is not bad, simply untaught and unorganised. Babies’ minds are all Id, according to Freud, amoral, egocentric, satisfaction directed.

According to Freud, “...The Ego is that part of the id which has been modified by the direct influence of the external world ... The ego represents what may be called reason and common sense, in contrast to the id, which contains the passions ... in its relation to the id it is like a man on horseback, who has to hold in check the superior strength of the horse; with this difference, that the rider tries to do so with his own strength, while the ego uses borrowed forces”.

The Superego is a form of referee, the public face of the mind, a kind of diplomatic representation of all the conflicting urges mediated by external experience – a conscious construct from the cultures we inhabit.

Part of the charm of ordinary life lies in the innocence of much of human behaviour, moderated by what we have learned as we grow up, driven by our need for acceptance, love, respect and so on. All these things become more sophisticated, more subtle, more rounded and less clumsy as we mature.

Some authorities now believe that it isn’t until about age 24 that physical development of the brain is more or less complete. That suggests that psychic maturity is an even longer process than we thought. I myself believe that maturity is a continuing process and that we don’t stop learning/growing until we die.

If all or even most of this is true. it seems clear to me that becoming truly human is a very long-term process and that our educational systems, culminating in University, are really all part of kindergarten. When we speak of people mellowing we are in fact describing psychic maturation.

This in my view logically leads to the need for a radical re-evaluation and transformation of our educational systems, because, it seems to me, we are aborting the real possibilities of civilisation by neglecting the basic needs of human development.

Masters and Slaves

I have for a very long time had a problem with Lord Acton’s aphorism that "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."

It seems to me that absolute powerlessness is a much greater corrupter than absolute power. In the first place, outside of slave societies, absolute power is not very common.

However, both inside and outside of slave societies, absolute powerlessness is the rule for most of humanity who find themselves overwhelmed by forces natural and artificial against whom it is almost impossible to exert any influence.

As inheritors of a former slave society today’s Jamaica suffers from a long indoctrination in submission to superior forces which can generally only be challenged by violence. The ruling classes (an amalgam of the heirs of slave-owners and a motley aggregation of recruits of all colours) and most of the rest of the population continue to behave as if it is still 1837, during the so-called apprenticeship period before Emancipation. A very large number of people still are unaware of their human rights or at least, unaware that they can claim these rights. And many among the ruling classes and just below still behave as if they do not have to take the interests and feelings of the majority into consideration.

These attitudes are the products of a pervasive culture in which, from time to time, the interests and passions of one class boil over, scorching the interests of the others.

In the last 30 years, starting before the collapse of the Soviet Union, the forces of finance capital launched a hostile takeover bid for the world, and, in places like Jamaica, recruited a substantial quota of middle class people who bought into the idea that if their lusts were attended to, health, wealth and happiness would naturally follow for the ‘less fortunate’.

That phrase – ‘the less fortunate’ – both conceals and exposes the real truth – that life in a world ruled by finance capital is a lottery, a matter of chance, fortune, of luck rather than ability or work.

So, people like P.J.Patterson and Edward Seaga were able to believe, no doubt sincerely, that separating thousands of people from their jobs was in their own best interests, and that somehow the people who had worked to build Jamaica over 500 years were parasites who had to be taught to work.

This attitude went with a total disregard and disrespect for any development which was not what I call, ‘Heavy Metal’ and poured scorn on Pearnell Charles when he suggested that in the interest of fair play and fair shares, those who were capable only of manual labour should b given the chance to perform it.

Development in this perspective is rather like General McArthur’s campaign against the Japanese: he simply skipped over islands of resistance if they didn’t seem significant, leaving unpacified, Japanese soldiers who were still in a state of war decades after both their Emperor, Hirohito, and McArthur had departed the scene.

The globalised development of Jamaica similarly simply skipped islands of poverty and need within the society, abandoning them to the elements, as it were.

Without government and its services these places developed their own cultures, their own rules and authorities – their own governance. It is no accident that the areas of violence in Jamaica are sharply defined. Described as garrison constituencies they have little to do with partisan politics but everything to do with underdevelopment.

In these places, the children are educated according to rules which are bizarre and outlandish to some of us, just as some of the rules developed 4 millennia ago by wandering nomads in the Egyptian desert seem bizarre and outlandish to us. From this governance and from these rules, come the violence and antisocial behaviour we fear.

Indefinite detention and mandatory sentences will not cure them. If we want to rescue ourselves we first need to rescue those who are most at risk.

Buying the Press Association

In 55 years of membership in the Jamaica Press Association/Press Association of Jamaica I have been part of continuing efforts to get the media house that employ journalists to help make life a little more civilised for journalists.

Long ago we began seeking to allow journalists to have portable pensions, so that if they moved between jobs, as journalists do, they wouldn’t lose everything.

We got no response.

When a year or so ago we tried to establish a fund for indigent journalists we were solemnly warned that we had better be careful we didn’t compromise our precious integrity by soliciting money from outsiders such as media owners.

Now, various elements of the media are attempting a hostile takeover bid for the Press Association. Media owners are paying subscription fees for journalists who are expected to vote down the current leadership of the Association in favour of a candidate from the Gleaner.

Stay tuned.

Copyright©2008 John Maxwell

jankunnu @gmail.com

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